[This is the second story in our three-part series on Parent Engagement]

Despite the convenience of digital communication, the benefits of traditional face-to-face contact shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to building a good relationship with your child’s teacher, advises one of Australia’s leading researchers on parent-school interactions.

The University of Queensland’s Dr Linda Willis – who has a PHD in the area of parent engagement –- says like any relationship, the parent-teacher relationship benefits from early, positive interactions. Good, ongoing communication and mutual respect will usually flow from that healthy starting point.

“First impressions are really important,’’ Dr Willis says.

“Simple things like making sure you don’t ignore the teacher, that you are visible to them and say hello so they know who you are make a difference. I think if parents or teachers are seen to be unapproachable it doesn’t allow the relationship to develop on a good footing.

“Open communication and mutually respectful relationships will often lead to productive outcomes for students, and that is something we see quite often in schools that have spent time building high quality school-family relationships.’’

Good engagement leads to good learning outcomes

Dr Willis taught in Queensland classrooms for more than 20 years and now collaboratively leads ground-breaking research on parent engagement.

She says parent engagement – which is the process of schools inviting parents to be part of their child’s learning journey – is fundamental to successful learning.

Research has shown that when good parent engagement happens in schools, the effect on students is overwhelmingly positive. They have been shown to do better academically, stay in school longer, be more engaged in their homework, behave better in class, have better social skills, be more motivated to learn and go on to higher study.

But Dr Willis says parent engagement is essentially all about relationships – and it is up to both parents and educators to get those fundamentals right before more advanced engagement can occur.

“Educators and parents need to see each other as partners in the education of children and respect one another’s unique knowledges and roles,’’ she says.

“Engagement is bringing parents closer to their child’s learning and schools are best placed to take a proactive role in fostering that.

“Parents are the first and continuing teachers of their children, so it’s important for schools to recognise this and to think of parents in a positive way by asking: ‘How can we help bring what the child is learning at school and what the parent knows about what their child is learning at school closer together’?

Avoid communicating in haste or anger

When parents do have concerns they wish to raise with the school, Dr Willis advises parents to ensure their timing is right: approach the teacher when they have time to respond – and always ensure you ask questions, rather than accuse.

“Try not to email teachers late at night and get cranky with them,’’ she says.

“What we’d encourage parents to do is to see their relationship with their child’s teacher as a long-term one and work with teachers in an ongoing way to support their child’s learning. And if you can, be proactive when invitations come from the school to contribute to the learning that is occurring.

“Tricky situations are always going to occur [in the classroom environment] but if the school and family already have a mutually respectful relationship the outcome is going to be more positive.’’

Want to find out more?

This is story two in our special three-part series on parent engagement. Read our first story to find out what other schools in Queensland are doing to foster strong school-family partnerships. Our third story explains the powerful effect parents can have on their child’s learning and wellbeing when they take a keen interest in what’s happening at school.

There is also a rich well of information and research about parent engagement, which we have compiled on our website. | LEARN MORE

There are also many wonderful websites with tips and advice for parents who want to connect school learning with life at home, which we have compiled for you here. | READ MORE

If you’d rather listen to a summary of the data, QIS Parents Network Executive Officer Sue Kloeden explains what parent engagement is in this webinar for Queensland independent schools | LEARN MORE

Download our one page guide to Parent Engagement here and share with your network. |DOWNLOAD